Pranab Mukherjee, the UPA's nominee for the next President of India, today responded to objections raised against his nomination by his opponent Purno Sangma's election team. Team Mukherjee submitted its reply to the returning officer for these elections, VK Agnihotri.
Mr Sangma, a former Lok Sabha Speaker, takes on Mr Mukherjee in the Presidential election scheduled for July 19, and his supporters have demanded that Mr Mukherjee be disqualified from the race. They claim that he held an office of profit as Chairman of the Indian Statistical Institute on the day that he filed his nomination papers.
Team Mukherjee, however, says this is "factually incorrect" as Mr Mukherjee quit this position even before he resigned as Finance Minister last week. Mr Mukherjee told NDTV yesterday that he had indeed resigned from that position before he filed his papers.
The Indian Statistical Institute too has said that Mr Mukherjee submitted his resignation as Chairman on June 20 this year and that it was accepted the same day. It has also clarified that Mr Mukherjee's position was not an office of profit in any case as he was not paid an honorarium, nor were his travel expenses reimbursed. The institute has admitted it made a mistake in not updating its website, which listed Mr Mukherjee as its Chairman till Monday afternoon. It has now removed his name.
Mr Mukherjee, who is campaigning and will be in Lucknow today, has the advantage right now, with numbers favouring him. As the UPA's candidate with NDA partners, the JD(U) and two Left parties - CPI(M) and Forward Bloc - also supporting his candidacy, Mr Mukherjee has the pledged support of more than 50 per cent of the electoral college. He will try and consolidate that support in Uttar Pradesh today - the big state has over 1.6 lakh votes of the total electoral college of nearly 11 lakh votes.
Mr Sangma is supported by the BJP and two regional parties, the AIADMK and the BJD. His team is ensuring that numbers or not it will put up a fight. Bhartrihari Mahatab, a BJD member of Parliament who is serving as Mr Sangma's election agent, complained to the returning officer yesterday that Mr Mukherjee still held the post at the Kolkata-based Indian Statistical Institute and hence could not run for President.
The BJP too stepped up the attack on Mr Mukherjee and said his nomination would be rejected. "Pranab Mukherjee was the chairman of Indian Statistical Institute and has continued to be so. Article 102, has a power to Parliament that we can exempt a member to file nomination... I am confident that the nomination will be rejected and Sangma shall become President," said BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad.
But Mr Mukherjee's election agent and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal described this as "legally ill-conceived." He said Mr Mukherjee had resigned before he filed his nomination. Mr Bansal also said that both he and Home Minister P Chidambaram checked with Mr Mukherjee who said he had resigned.
The scrutiny of nomination papers was delayed for a day in view of Team Sangma's objection raised on Monday.
The Indian Constitution, while defining qualifications for a Presidential candidate under Article 58, states that "A person shall not be eligible for election as President if he holds any office of profit under the Government of India or the Government of any State or under any local or other authority subject to the control of any of the said Governments."